Monday, September 12, 2011

On The Job Training

Tomorrow is the beginning of a new era for the Woodland Park Cooperative Preschools: the first day of school in our new home at the Center of the Universe.


Sure, we ran our summer program there these past few months, but despite the complaints about it being rather cool and cloudy (I'll take that over the extreme heat much of the US suffered) there were only a couple mornings with rain, and nothing that lead us to move ourselves indoors. Last week our Pre-3 parents came together for our spring orientation and tonight the 3-5's gather in what we're calling "The Cloud Room" (I'm sure I'll show you why in the coming days) to make sure we're getting started on the same page.


Typically, the 3-5's class is comprised entirely of veteran families, all with at least one year of co-op under their belts, while about a quarter to a third of the Pre-3 class have previous experience working and playing at our school. And I, myself, have been doing this at Woodland Park for the past 9 years. This year, however, we're all rookies, or at least when it comes to working with our "third teacher."


Until recently, I'd never given much thought to the Reggio Emelia concept of the environment (e.g., the physical space, organization, neighborhood) serving as a child's third teacher as part of a three-legged arrangement that includes me and the parents as the other two legs. But it's pretty much all I've thought about since we made the big move to Fremont last June. I wrote earlier this summer about the challenges and joys of getting to know our new outdoor classroom and I've spent the last few weeks alone with the indoor parts of her, arranging and being arranged. With the help of several parents we've thought many challenges through to what we hope are solutions, but there remain a couple tight knots of concern in my head and belly as I contemplate the first day.

The "blue room" is not blue any more.

Tonight as all three legs of our teaching stool assemble ourselves, I'll make a call, as I did with our Pre-3 parents last week for patience, creativity and flexibility as we figure out how to best untie those knots. How exactly will our snack and cleaning procedures work? How will we function while using the much larger space afforded by 3 rooms instead of our customary one? How will the children, who will be meeting their new third teacher for the first time respond? What will they discover about her that we don't know? In what ways will she comfort them? Stimulate them? Threaten them? Reveal to them?

I'll spend time alone with her again today, one last time before we put her to work. I'll add a few decorations, making some final, probably unnecessary, adjustments, get out some toys, art supplies and sensory materials. Of course, we'll be playing with all those moving boxes until we've used them up. I'm always excited for the first day of school, but it's been a long time since I've had this much trepidation mixed in as well.

Earlier this summer it took me almost two hours to shift things
around enough that I could finally get our art table where I
wanted it.

I'm filled up now with fussing with her, however, and ready for the children and parents to arrive and make of her what they will. We've done what we can. Now it's time for a little on the job training. It's not, in fact, her first time as a school, but it's her first time as our school and that makes a world of difference.

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The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Best of all the first week of school has to offer! I'm a big believer in the environment as a teacher...thus, lots of natural wood/baskets for organising, wide open spaces as opposed to movement-hindering 'stuff', bright colours, lots of sunlight. I've ALMOST got my space the way I want it, after 2 years...but know it will change and shift as my students do. How exciting, to start in a fresh space!

Rosanne said...

Since the space is for everyone and you all will live in it all year why not allow it to grow and blossom as you go along together? Let the space show who lives in it....
I think we all have been programmed to think that the play room needs to be all colourful and stuffed to the rafters to be seen as an engaging start to the year. What about objects and materials that draw the children and families in? If you were a child what would YOU first run to and investigate....
AS a newly retired (did this too early) playschool teacher I wrapped my mind and arms around this idea every Sept. and it lead to a fresh, new room every year with items coming in almost weekly from each and every family! Would love to continue this dialogue Tom with you if you'd like to.
Thanks for your thoughts and reflections!

Lesley Romanoff said...

Tom, we have those same tables, blue legs and all! Our forward-thinking ancestor-teachers must have been shopping in all the same places! Hope your first day was a solid. Lesley

Dawn said...

Hi Tom
This is Dawn (Family Day Care) in Victoria Australia. Hope you have a great first day in fact whole year. Be interested to hear how it goes

Cape Town-Patsy said...

Best of luck in your new space! I love the pictures of the empty rooms. It leaves me with a feeling of "What if....?"
I worked in a school where we moved the furniture around every week to 10 days to challenge the children to interact with the space in a new way. The beauty of that was that I, as a teacher, was forced to keep looking at my space from different aspects, closely monitoring to see what worked and what not, and to see how the children solved the new challenges. I look forward to some more classroom pictures as the year progresses.